Belal Muhammad (right) had taken the fight with just four weeks’ notice
Britain’s Leon Edwards said he was “heartbroken” after his welterweight fight with Belal Muhammad was declared a no contest following an eye poke.
The referee called the bout 18 seconds into the second round after Edwards accidentally drew blood from Muhammad’s right eye.
Edwards had been tipped for a world title shot had he won in Las Vegas.
“I didn’t mean to do it,” Edwards said. “I went for the cross-head kick. He stepped into it. I really apologise.”
The 29-year-old added: “I’d rather a loss than that. I’m heartbroken. I don’t know what to say.”
Edwards was on an eight-fight winning streak in the UFC – the second-longest in the welterweight division behind champion Kamaru Usman (13), and the third-longest in the division’s history.
He had not fought in 19 months because of coronavirus lockdowns, cancelled fights and positive tests, but looked in control during the opening round, landing several big strikes on his 32-year-old opponent.
But Muhammad was left visibly upset and in pain as his eye immediately swelled up moments after the poke. He later said on social media his vision was returning and there was no permanent damage.
“What now? What do I do now?” Edwards said.
“I went in focused on my next chapter to be the world champion. It’s been a long year and a half. To come back to that…”